President of the Family Division James Munby has reminded the government that children who wish to speak to judges about their wishes and feelings during a case should be able to do so, in his latest update on the Family Court.
The reminder comes after Researching Reform published its Freedom Of Information Request asking the Ministry of Justice on an update in this area.
In the 16th View From The President’s Chambers, Munby adds a quote from Minister for Victims, Youth and Family Justice, Dr Lee as a gentle nudge. Dr Lee says:
“Guidance on children’s participation in proceedings is key to the voice of the child agenda. It is vital that we get this right, so the judiciary, Cafcass and Ministry of Justice are working carefully on this. We need to explore ways to balance children’s stronger involvement in proceedings about them, while also making sure the system continues to operate effectively at this time of increasing demand and pressure. We will, of course, listen to your views in getting that balance right.”
The government’s very slow progress in this area is partly to do with high level anxiety over involving children in proceedings. However, any policy that’s implemented must stress that involvement is voluntary and where requested, facilitated quickly and safely.
Anxiety should not be a factor in the government dragging its heels over this issue – if children wish to speak, they will not feel duress or fear and should expect that if they are being coerced into seeing the judge, professionals working with the family should be able to spot this and protect the child in question without opening them up to any harm.
Researching Reform expects a response to its FOI request at the beginning of February. We’ll keep you posted.